The Volvo XC60 is the Swedish brand's top-selling model both in Australia and around the world, and as such its mid-life update is inextricably linked to the car maker's showroom success.
The first significant facelift for Volvo’s premium mid-sized SUV comes around five years into the XC60’s life, following the launch of the original in Europe in 2008 and locally at the beginning of 2009.
Gone are the small horizontal lights between the main headlights and grille, replaced by larger, single-lens headlamp fixtures and a broader grille with a bigger Volvo badge. The bonnet and bumpers are also new.
Interior enhancements are limited to the customisable digital instrument cluster (premiered by the V40 hatchback) and the introduction of new upholstery colours, wood inlays, headliners and metal frames throughout the cabin.
The Volvo XC60’s driver assist features expands to include active high-beam assist, cornering lights, enhanced blind spot information, cross traffic alert, road sign information, new pedestrian and cyclist detection technology, and an upgraded version of the City Safety automatic braking system that now operates at speeds up to 50km/h. With the exception of City Safety, all of the above features are optional, though can be bundled in the Driver Support Pack, priced at $5000.
Absent from the Volvo XC60 update is the brand’s all-new turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘Drive-E’ engine family, however, which is not due to arrive Australia until April, and then only in select front-wheel-drive models, with all-wheel-drive variants not due until 2015.
As such, the XC60’s engine line-up carries over unchanged, except the old 3.2-litre six-cylinder petrol has been dropped. Volvo has also cut the number of variants from 12 to eight, with the remaining four engines available in two specifications each: the D4 diesel and T5 petrol in Kinetic and Luxury trim, and the D5 diesel and T6 petrol in Luxury and R-Design specs. (Full pricing and specifications here.)
Prices increase $500-$1850 across the range, with the XC60 T5 Kinetic base model now $56,990.
The turbocharged 177kW/320Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder T5 petrol forms a sweet pairing with its six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Accelerating from 0-100km/h in 8.1 seconds, the T5-equipped XC60 feels progressive rather than fast, but delivers its power in such a smooth, linear fashion that it’s easily forgiven for not pinning you to your seat.
But Volvo expects the $69,990-$73,990 D5 diesel AWD to continue as the most popular specification in the refreshed range, despite costing up to $13,000 more than the T5, and $11,000 more than fellow diesel stablemate, the D4.
The 2.4-litre five-cylinder D5 diesel is just efficient as the smaller 2.0-litre five-cylinder D4 diesel – claiming 6.9 litres per 100km on the combined cycle – despite producing 38kW/40Nm more in Luxury spec (158kW/440Nm), and an additional 49kW/70Nm in the Polestar-optimised R-Design. Accelerating from 0-100km/h takes 8.1-8.3 seconds depending on the tune, versus 10.3sec for the 120kW/400Nm D4.
Both feature a six-speed torque converter, rather than dual-clutch, automatic transmission, though drive in the D4 is directed to the front wheels only. The D5 weighs in at 1819kg – only 48kg more than the D4, despite its larger engine and AWD underpinnings.
The D4 forms a better partnership with the six-speed auto, however, which in the D5 is too eager to upshift and slow to downshift, but in the D4 more appropriately holds gears and is quicker to shift down, leading to more immediate power delivery.
The D5 is ultimately the more sophisticated engine of the duo and a better all-round performer. It’s less clattery at low revs and unsurprisingly puts its power down more purposefully when asked to accelerate, pulling most strongly between its 1500-3000rpm peak torque range.
Both diesel engines – and indeed, both petrols too – are remarkably muted within the cabin, even when pushed towards their respective redlines, creating a generally quiet environment, though its a trait that unfortunately emphasises the wind noise generated by the XC60’s large wing mirrors and A-pillars at highway speeds.
Without question, the $74,990-$78,990 T6 is the performance standout of the Volvo XC60 range. Producing 224kW and 440Nm from its turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six engine in Luxury spec and 242kW and 480Nm in uprated R-Design guise, triple figures are reached in a hot-hatch-hassling 6.6 seconds and prods at the throttle pedal are met by an encouraging urgency from the boosted motor. Unsurprisingly, it's the least efficient of the bunch, consuming a claimed 10.5L/100km combined.
But the test T6 R-Design, on optional 20-inch wheels, is not the overall standout on the road; that honour goes to the base model T5 Kinetic.
The Volvo XC60 is one of those cars where ride quality is directly linked to the wheel and tyre size, and it’s the Kinetic – riding on 17-inch alloys shod with chubby 235mm-wide, 65-aspect rubber – that offers greater comfort than its more expensive siblings. Kinetic models are best at absorbing coarse surfaces and bumps both around town and at higher speeds, sparing the cabin many of the vibrations that are increasingly evident in both the Luxury with its 18-inch wheels, and the R-Design.
Adding to the R-Design’s firmness is its unique sport chassis, which features stiffer dampers, springs, bushings and anti-roll bars. R-Design models sit flatter through corners than the standard roll-prone models as a result, though it delivers the harshest ride of the bunch. Its suspension reacts sharply to road joins and potholes, becoming tiresome over the Victorian country roads of our launch program.
The XC60’s steering offers decent consistency whether in standard specification or the more responsive R-Design tune, though the front-drive models are preferable for their lighter weighting. Mid-corner bumps uncovered some kickback from the wheel, however.
The driver’s seat is terrifically comfortable and supportive, particularly the R-Design’s sports pew, which offers body-hugging side bolstering.
Rear passengers are far from an afterthought too, with sufficient head and legroom for two adults. The two outside seat bases also feature in-built booster cushions for kids, while B-pillar-mounted vents direct air to your face.
The standard seven-inch colour screen embedded in the dash looks sharp and is easy to navigate despite lacking a rotary-style command dial common among its competitors.
The cabin features enough useful stowage spaces for bottles, phones and wallets, and its 495-litre boot (although 45L and 55L smaller than that of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 respectively) expands to 1455L with the 40/20/40 split rear seats folded forward.
The Volvo XC60 update won’t be properly complete until the new engines begin to arrive from April, though the fresh face, upgraded interior and added tech are welcome additions.
It’s less convincing in R-Design spec, though in base Kinetic guise, which undercuts the respective base X3 and Q5 by $2000-$5000, makes a strong case as an entry-level premium SUV.